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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Centurion: Mark's Gospel as a Thriller by Ryan Casey Waller

In 2099 the United States is gone. In its place stands the most powerful government the world has ever seen: the Kingdom. Led by King Charles and his Centurion Guard, Americans live in fear of being abducted north in a train marked for death. Deacon Larsen boarded a train three years ago to travel west, the only region where medicine is still taught. But after the Kingdom abducted his parents, he returned home to the South. But Deacon hasn't come home to put his parent's affairs in order, as stated in his strictly controlled travel visa. No. He's come back for the only thing he has left: revenge. But waiting for Deacon are truths he never expected and a decision so impossible he may have to die to make it. The life Deacon knew is gone. The ones Deacon loves are dead. The truth Deacon craves is out there. But can he find it? Centurion is an imaginative retelling of Mark's gospel as a dystopic thriller. It's the greatest story ever told, as never before told.

Released: December 26th 2013   
Pages: 190
Publisher: Interlochen Ink           
Source: Goodreads First Reads giveaway
First Look: ****Mark's gospel?  As a dystopic thriller?  Um, yes.  Christian fiction is becoming increasingly off-putting and problematic for me (here's why), but I hoped that this would go against that trend.  Besides, why wouldn't I want to read a gospel retold as a thriller?

Setting: ***** I feel like a broken record, having to constantly criticize dystopian novels for settings that don't make sense.  And yet, here I am, talking once again about weak worldbuilding.  There is a king in future America now, because...?  Everyone is oppressed because you can't have a dystopian novel if nobody is oppressed...?  This one, though, isn't so much about lack of sense--it's more about lack of explanations.  I'm a stickler for dystopians that are dystopic for specific reasons, not just because humanity randomly turned degenerate.  While the setting may have worked, in this case, it felt more like a backdrop than an actual factor in the story.  We are handed the dystopian aspects, but never shown why they happened that way in the first place.  We're also told that the Centurions are bad, but we're never given enough concrete proof of this to really care.

Characters: *****  This is the highlight of the book.  Deacon is reckless yet courageous, passionate yet jaded, determined yet easily manipulated.  He's a very fleshed-out, human character.  He has flaws.  He makes grave mistakes, but he still keeps pushing forward toward his goal.  I genuinely liked him, even if I questioned some of his decisions.  Since this is a gospel retelling, I kept trying to figure out which biblical character he represented.  Initially, he seemed to be a new addition, purely of the author's creation.  After awhile, though, I figured out his identity, and I loved this twist.  He's an often-overlooked biblical character, and I appreciate the unique angle it gave the book.

The side characters vary.  Some, like Jude and Alejandro, are complex, and therefore compelling.  Maria, though, seems too perfect to be real, and has little personality.  No other characters are given enough attention to be much more than background.

Plot: ***** The plot isn't as tight as I would have liked.  I understand that the author is following an already-established storyline, but Deacon's personal story didn't fully mesh with the gospel story.  We start out right away with Deacon's desire for a rebellion, but this never fully made sense to me.  The government is responsible for the death of his parents, yes, but what, exactly, does he hope to accomplish by taking it down?  There's a hint of a supernatural aspect (beyond the Christ figure), but this is mentioned once or twice and then ignored.  Also, the romance insta-lust between Deacon and Maria happens way too quickly.  And randomly.  He falls in love with her just for her beauty, which isn't even love at all.

Overall, the plot maintains a solid pace, and I was able to follow its progression through the gospel.  I just wish it had been a little more streamlined.

Uniqueness: ****If this was just another dystopian novel, I would be all over it for unoriginal plot elements.  It's not a typical dystopian novel, though--it's a gospel retelling.  A thriller gospel.  And I applaud the author for that idea.

Writing: ****The writing does its job in an unobtrusive way.  I don't have much else to say about it.  It blends a few direct gospel quotes into the narration and dialogue, and these felt a bit awkward.  Of course, f you're taking centuries-old dialogue and putting it into a modern context, it's going to sound a bit weird.  Still, I wish it had felt a little more natural.

Likes: N/A.

Not-so-great: That ending.

I don't remember any of that happening in the Bible, but...alright.  It's a dystopian novel, so things aren't going to be pretty.  Still, the ending seemed abrupt and sudden for no good reason.

Overall: Centurion is not perfect by any means.  The setting never feels fully integrated with the plot.  Some of the direct Bible quotes are awkward mixed into the rest of the dialogue.  Deacon is a realistic and unique character, though, and I enjoyed reading about him.  The entire idea of this book is fantastic, as well.  It's more of a 3.5 star book, but I'm rounding up.  Recommended for people who want to read familiar biblical stories from a different perspective (though you wouldn't have to be familiar with the Bible to enjoy it).

Similar Books: It's a Christian dystopian novel like Aquifer.  Without the biblical aspect, it's a take-down-the-government sort of book, like Shatter Me or Inside Out.  (Even though I'm making comparisons, I should point out that none of these books really read like Centurion--it's just that I had trouble finding anything that does.)  

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